This outbreak is the ultimate worldwide leadership test. As my colleague Uri Friedman wisely put it:
Every leader on the planet is facing the same potential threat. Every leader is reacting differently, in his or her own style. And every leader will be judged by the results.
Today, we’re examining four leaders who have been praised for their competency. All govern areas with notably low rates of infection—meaning, to varying degrees, that their effectiveness may have translated into better health outcomes for their citizens. Here’s a look at how they led.
Merkel, a former research scientist who holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry, is “less a commander in chief and more a scientist in chief.”
“Germany’s leader has deployed her characteristic rationality, coupled with an uncharacteristic sentimentality, to guide the country through what has thus far been a relatively successful battle against COVID-19,” the writer Saskia Miller reports in a dispatch from Berlin.
Some patients feel almost nothing, while others spend weeks in the ICU. A puzzling aspect of the new coronavirus is how varied people’s responses are.
At a certain point, it’s not the virus itself endangering the person. It’s their body. Jim Hamblin explains: “Once the virus has spread widely within our body, our own immune system becomes the thing that more urgently threatens to kill us.”
Once the body recognizes that it’s been overwhelmed by the virus, which can take a week or two, the immune response sometimes goes into overdrive. This process, known as a cytokine storm, seems to be what causes many coronavirus patients to crash.
Researchers are looking for patterns in who survives cytokine storms and who doesn’t—and for approaches that might help control a patient’s immune response. That work is ongoing, and we don’t have the answers yet, but we do know that a person’s immune response is not isolated from societal factors.
“Variation in immune responses between people is due to much more than age or chronic disease,” Jim writes.“People who are unable to take time off of work when sick—or who don’t have a comfortable and quiet home, or who lack access to good food and clean air—are likely to bear the burden of severe disease.”